Ghost writing? The mysterious affair of Poirot in the 21st century

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 5, 2013


This really is ghost writing. A new Hercule Poirot novel, 38 years after the death of his creator Agatha Christie. Crime writer and Christie aficionado Sophie Hannah is writing a new book in which the pernickety little Belgian takes a new case. Ms Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard has permitted the project in the hope of taking Poirot to a new generation.

Can he? Is the 21st century’s smartphone –user likely to be charmed by a fop from the last? Remember Captain Hastings’ first description of him? A“quaint dandified little man”, he said, with a stiff and military “upwardly curled moustache”, a head “exactly the shape of an egg” and “incredibly neat attire”? In the 20th century, it sounded charming – just old world enough to be new for thousands of readers. Today…well, it’s hard to tell which way it will go.

And there sits another question. Will the new Poirot case remain stuck in the past, or sit uneasily in the changing Britain of the 1960s with its swinging vibe and vulgarisms (Third Girl)?  Or will it venture into this new age of technology and tumult – social media, blogs, Facebook police investigations and so on?

If it doesn’t, wouldn’t it be too out of time to be anything but a short-lived curiosity.

Publishing posthumous work has increasingly become a trend with a new ‘old Jeeves and Wooster novel due out this year written by Sebastian Faulks. Back in 2009, the Wall Street Journal documented the “surge”, pointing to an unfinished murder mystery by Graham Greene, many of Mark Twain’s works, and a new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, more than a 150 years after her death. Interestingly, it took a nuanced view of publishers’ desire to capitalise on famous dead authors. “The posthumous works may generate as much controversy as enthusiasm. Many are incomplete or appear in multiple drafts, raising thorny questions about author intent. Others, dug up from the archives of authors’ early and less accomplished work, could be branded disappointing footnotes to otherwise lustrous literary legacies,” it said.

Flogging a dead horse in more ways than one?